I have a bad memory of dates. Well, for other things as well, but mainly for dates. A regular phrase you’ll hear from me is “Oh, that’s tomorrow huh!?” This can be in reference to my birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and this year, Lent. Last year I realized it was Lent two weeks after it had begun; this year, I heard about it yesterday, but thought it started tomorrow. I’m all mixed up. That being said, Lent has officially begun. It’s time to get some ash from the fire, mark a cross on your forehead, and give up something for the Lord for the next 40 days leading up to Easter…. or is it? Oh, and by the way, the ash on the forehead thing is only for Ash Wednesday.
Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics, and some Protestant denominations. It is representative of the 40 days and nights Christ spent fasting in the wilderness.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are not mentioned in the Bible. This tradition is similar to but different than the Old Testament practices of mourning with sackloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3) combined with the Biblical practice of fasting. The overall goal, as I understand it, is to rid yourself of bad habits, or “sinful activities”, for the 40 days leading up to Easter. For most modern day Christians, this seems to mean cutting out TV, smoking, alcohol, eating sweets, etc.
To my knowledge, which again can be fuzzy at times, I did not grow up observing lent. I’m also not sure I’m going to start. Observing Lent seems redundant on a couple levels to me.
It seems to me that we, as good human beings, should already be practicing moderation in areas of our lives. We should not constantly be eating candy, watching TV, smoking, drinking, or playing video games. We should love ourselves enough to eat well, and live a well-balanced life to help maintain these bodies that God gave us. Lent is not “Spiritual New Years” where we make a list of resolutions we never intended to keep. As with New Years, half-hearted resolutions made for Lent will likely not be long lasting lifestyle changes.
Aren’t Christians already supposed to be living lives of obedience to God and His Word? Shouldn’t that mean focusing on God, abstaining from harmful practices, repenting when we fall, keeping our mind pure? Undoubtedly! The truth is: lent is a temporary state of living that should, out of gratitude for what Christ has done, be the way all Christians live daily.
Do I need Lent to remind me how often I fail? No, I know myself and I’m a huge failure. Do I need to “do the right thing” for Lent so God will love me? No. God can never love me more than He does now, and has already forgiven me of all my sins. Isn’t that the great thing us Christians are always talking about? We’re saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8), there is literally, yes I mean literally, nothing we can do to make God love us more than He does. We don’t have to earn it (Romans 5:8). We don’t have to “fake it to make it.” It was already made 2,000 years ago, on the old rugged Cross where Jesus suffered, died and rose again three days later taking on the penalty for our sin, and raising again to give us new life (1 Corinthians 15).
Should you observe lent? That is fully between you and God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Is it wrong to observe Lent? Certainly not!
My challenge to you is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…. and Love your neighbor as yourself… All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” I actually can’t take credit for that one, that was all Jesus. What I understand our Lord to be saying is if you do these things, Love God, Love People, Love your Neighbors, and Love yourself, you will observing the spirit of Lent everyday of your life. No ashy forehead required.
I do not mean to discourage anyone from observing Lent this year. There are many amazing men and women of God choosing to as a new fresh way to connect with their Savior. If you have decided in your heart to do so, that is wonderful. I pray that this will be a time of great blessing and will draw you closer to God who loves you more than you can imagine.